Tucson’s ‘unreasonable’ increased water charges for Pima County residents dumped by judge

Dylan Smith
8 Min Read

Tucson Water won’t be able to soak residents of unincorporated parts of Pima County with higher water bills than city customers, a judge ruled. A 2021 price increase wasn’t based on a study required by state law, the court found.

Because the Tucson City Council instituted a rate increase for customers outside the city limits before doing a study of the actual costs of providing them with water, the “challenged rates are unreasonable as a matter of law,” a Maricopa County Superior Court judge ruled.

In June 2021, the city approved raised rates for residents and businesses in unincorporated areas, effective that December. A war of words followed as Pima County supervisors called the move
“greedy” as the feud brought relations between the city and the county
to “all-time low.”

The Pima County Board of Supervisors voted to sue to reverse that move in November, and the suit was filed in December 2021.

Judge Randall H. Warner granted the county’s motion for summary judgment in the case last week.

Pima County officials said that the city “has not provided notice on when it will start complying with the court’s order and the impact on past and future water payments.”

Tucson officials didn’t immediately respond to questions about the judge’s ruling, which was made on Sept. 11 but not filed with the court clerk until Friday. County officials
released his decision and a press release on the case Friday afternoon. This report will be updated when the city provides comments.

Judge Warner, in a brief five-page decision, found that Arizona law requires “water rates to be grounded in cost, (and) the next question is whether Tucson’s differential rates satisfy that requirement. They do not. When Tucson set the rates, it did not base them on costs or other financial data.”

The county’s suit argued that the Tucson Water price hike was not based on actual cost of service, that the rates were arbitrary and did not treat customers equally under the law. Warner agreed, writing that “the fact that Tucson obtained a cost-of-service study after it set the rates does not cure the problem. The record shows the study was done for the purpose of justifying already-set rates, which Tucson then re-approved.”

“It’s a relief to know that ratepayers in the unincorporated county will not be treated differently than other Tucson Water users in the county. This is not a matter that needed to go to court — we spent more than a year asking and even pleading with the city to reconsider this unfair and illegal action against its neighbors. This outcome helps to make things right. We’re all in this together when it comes to water, and my hope is that we can move forward with respectful cooperation in the future,” said District 3 Supervisor Sharon Bronson, who represents a wide stretch of rural western Pima County as well as sections of the North Side.

“We made the difficult decision to pursue this lawsuit because we needed to safeguard the rights of our constituents and all ratepayors,” said District 1 Supervisor Rex Scott, who represents the Northwest Side, Foothills and rural areas near Marana and Oro Valley. “Many of them have been Tucson Water customers for decades and they were forced to pay more for their water solely because of where they live or work. I am proud and grateful that the court has made this just and proper decision.”

District 4 Supervisor Steve Christy also welcomed the decision.

“I am confident my Tanque Verde and Greater Vail constituents share my gratitude that the court recognized this arbitrary action taken by the city of Tucson was misguided and neither just nor reasonable,” Christy said.

City officials have claimed it costs up to 26 percent more to provide
water to some residents of unincorporated areas of the county.

The rate hike meant drinking water rates for residents in areas like the Catalina Foothills, Casas Adobes and the
Drexel/Alvernon area, among others, went up by 10 percent compared to prices
for Tucson residents. It also established a tiered system that can raise
rates by as much as 40 percent for customers who use more water.

“What the county does is borderline criminal,” Ward 2 Councilman Paul Cunningham said in 2021 of his vote to approve the raised rates, referring to
the disparity between how much the county collects from municipalities
and how much they spend on them. “At some point, it’s about standing up
and saying this isn’t fair. This is a policy decision for city residents
so they have a little something extra. We’re not just doing this to
cover the cost of service. We’re doing this for the city of Tucson and
its residents who aren’t getting what’s fair from the county.”

is no question of fairness,” Supervisor Bronson said a few days before the city voted on the issue.
“Because what the city wants to do isn’t fair.”

Leading up to the vote, Bronson said that she can’t understand any
reasoning by the city of Tucson for wanting to hike rates except “that
they’re greedy” though she dialed back that comment to say instead that
the city of Tucson didn’t want to take on their responsibility to be the
regional water provider, which she said would be a violation of a 1979
intergovernmental agreement.

The City Council and members of the Board of Supervisors had planned
to hold a joint meeting in June 2021, in part to discuss the water service
issue in public, but conflicts between some members of each
body and slow communication meant that session was called off just days

Dylan Smith www.tucsonsentinel.com news,politics,business,environment,trans_growth

2023-09-15 22:25:52 , All Headlines | TucsonSentinel.com

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